|Notes on the Archive: An Introduction
by Robert Lee
This archive is devoted to the practice of looking. Seeing requires the desire and impulse to look, however such energy should not be channeled simply into an intellectual pursuit. Other organs or aspects of the human body can take part in the act of perception that do not function cognitively to coax a reciprocal balance in the human person. AAAC’s Artists Archive was gathered by way of such a practice of looking, a process that a viable non-for-profit infrastructure could sustain and keep focused.
Exhibiting and writing about artists for over twenty five years has lead to this archival approach to the encounter of different cultures. It is designed to witness and affirm artistic attainments that bridge the gap between two cultural mentalities. In this sense, the Arts Centre’s interaction with artists helped shape the themes that gradually formed the substance and the subject of Asian American art. Artasiamerica.org, the digital archive, which covers to date about 10% of AAAC’s Artists Archive, has focused on those artists who signaled key themes and, in the context of AAAC, gave expression to them.
artasiamerica.org is also a strange fruit of the tragedy of 9.11 and its impact on Lower Manhattan, particularly its devastating impact on the economy of Chinatown. Support of the Lower Manhatan Development Corporation (LMDC) was crucial for enabling artasiamerica.org to see the light of day. AAAC recognizes this support.
Technology too by way of the internet has enabled access to this archive, but technology may be taking away more than it gives. The drive to technical improvements constantly getting better fuels the illusion of progress and a fervor for the new. This seems to give us something concrete to do, and a measure of control. We should not make the mistake of thinking of life as a machine. Clearly, this is not how human life – works.
Back in the beginning of the Asian American Movement, like so many, I was neither Asian nor American. With no place to be, not on this shore nor on that distant one, I belonged no where. Exiled from self, I put together a shanty on the beach, so to speak, looking out to that distant shore and used stilts to stay above the ebb and flow. With the dawn I found I was not alone, a multitude had joined to make a Shanty City. With this came the promise of change, a revolution. It didn’t take long for that dream to pass too. This was the late 60s. This is how it started.
In the early 80s in a Newsday or Daily News article I saw a headline on an inside page that read, “Asianization of American Culture”. Recently at the Asian American ComiCon event at MoCA I saw this term again. The announcement read, “Asianization of American Pop Culture”. What does this term really mean?
The ‘Asian American’ experience is vast, broad and diverse. My experience is likely different from most. The perspectives this has given me have shaped this Archive and what its value. To me Asian Americans are born of two cultures. As a child I saw a film entitled “When Worlds Collide”. Recently it has come back to me for the two worlds that were important for me were not in harmony. This experience was like falling through the fabric of one time to glimpse another. I could have forgotten this experience, let the contradictions and questions that tumble over each other lay where they fell, but later I realized I could come back to these questions through what artists do. They muse about and reconstruct values, they heal and leaven contradictions. They helped me explore the enigma of being Asian in America.
The film, “When Worlds Collide” also helped me see when words become useless. The meanings of words come out of a historical stream. They refer back to the context of the culture they emerge. Once two cultures overlap and begin to approach congruency, a kind of reconciliation process changes the whole dynamic. New words in time will form once the tumult and confusion subsides. The name of this digital archive is artasiamerica to indicate how our notions are morphing. I would suggest, therefore, Don’t Get Caught Up In Names! Identities are part of the story, but realize they will shift and slide with time.
How to use artasiamerica.org: I’m sure I don't have to tell art professionals and researchers how to do this. However, for all the high school and college students who we would like to explore this site I can say, an Archive is like a dance alive, creating ripples. It's a lathe whose ooze can be gathered. Read the work, listen to it, to the art. Find what turns you on, what inspires – that's all you need.
The Archive is more than one artist. It is many artists who over time and place touch on a related set of questions. They give each other a context, a context of a moment, a sequence of ‘now’ moments, which is what contemporary art is suppose to be about. You can envision the Archive like a Time/Space Tree. On it you can hang your own art and artists.
Have you heard of Google’s new program, SIY? Search Inside Yourself. There are parallels here to what this Archive can be about. But that's up to you.
An Archive is not forever. It may last ten, twenty years, enough to pass the torch. Then the next technology will come along and make digital passé.
I went to a wedding recently. The bride, the shy woman I knew was radiant, warm, and in Charge, like a queen. Art like a vow, can do this. Archives can’t. An Archive can only serve, awaiting discovery. An Archive can provide evidence, but not more. Its collections are fragmented, pieces lifted out of a stream, for someone else, missing pieces could tell another story. You have to come to your own conclusion.
Forgive the anecdotes but here’s another: One night I was leaving work very late. It was almost dawn when I noticed someone crouching in the doorway of the restaurant next door. He had a small alter and some candles he was trying to lite. I asked him what he was doing. He said he had just renovated his restaurant and the grand opening was tomorrow. So he was doing necessary rituals to Kuan Kung, the red faced deity at the entrance doorway. I asked him if he believed in such things. He said no. Then, I asked, why are you doing this? He said, just in case! AAAC Artist Archive and artasiamerica.org aims to be responsible, responsible to the general public and to an Asian American audience. We live with so much absurdity, so much that is out of sync, dreamland is an essential part of the economy. How can we make sense, deep sense? And when it’s time, will we be ready to let contradictions go?
On PBS recently there was a documentary on the Trail of Tears. That's when in 1838 the Cherokee were stripped of their rights and forced to move against their will on 'The Trail of Tears' by the US government. An archive was established and is maintained by individual Cherokees. Their practice is to pray for everyone, not just all those who died on the Trail, and not just for those who took part in the slaughter, but for everyone.
What’s on the horizon for us, for this civilization? The individuals who maintain this archive, children of those survivors of the Trail, gave me the sense that a whole other story is on the horizon, yet untold, a story that is not secular, and perhaps not sacred, but very near it.
Welcome to artasiamerica.org
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